I’m not going to lie. One of my favorite parts of boot camp was the hand-to-hand training portions. The Marine Corps calls its martial arts program MCMAP (Marine Corps Martial Arts Program). Every Marine must obtain a tan belt prior to graduating boot camp, and if they spend time in the fleet they can obtain higher belts. Obtaining a tan belt isn’t difficult, but the overall training of it was what I expected from being in Marine Corps boot camp.
Sadly, the perception of MCMAP is rather negative. Marines often make jokes at MCMAP’s expense and call each other McNinjas, or proclaim it provides just enough training to get your ass kicked in a real fight. Some of the criticism is valid to a degree: MCMAP is not a martial art you’ll see in an MMA match. Yet, the Marine Corps Martial Arts Program isn’t the joke Marines make it out to be.
Where MCMAP Shines
Training a wide variety of people
The goal of the Marine Corps Martial Arts Program is to take every Marine from all walks of life and provide them with two things, hand-to-hand skills, and the warrior spirit. Designing a martial arts system that can take a ton of 17- and 18-year-olds in all physical shapes from all backgrounds and give them a foundation for self-defense is tough, but that’s what MCMAP does.
Firstly, MCMAP trains a wide variety of people on how to use their bodies effectively in a fight. It essentially teaches a simple manual of arms to a group of people with likely zero background in martial arts. The program’s simplistic style makes that possible. The first few belts focus on the basics of footwork and throwing punches and slowly evolve into bayonet fighting, improvised weapons, knives, ground fighting, and more. A tan belt won’t make you a warrior, but it provides a foundation to make you a better fighter.
Second, much like the bayonet, the chance of using hand-to-hand combat in war is fairly
minuscule. However, training to do so does invoke a certain degree of violence and helps wake up the warrior spirit inside a Marine. The Marine Corps isn’t all guts and glory. It’s a lot of sitting around, paperwork, annual training, and more. Interspersing a little MCMAP helps Marines feel like Marines.
Fighting in gear
When a UFC fighter enters the ring, they are wearing a set of shorts. When a Marine enters a battlefield, they are wearing body armor and a kevlar; they’re carrying a pack, a rifle, and likely a variety of gear on their bodies. MCMAP took that into consideration and designed the program around Marines wielding the tools of their trade.
The techniques and moves can be accomplished with that body armor and helmet on. The program also implements weapon retention techniques to ensure Marines can fight off an attacker who’s trying to take their weapon. That’s all valuable, and it might not be a spinning heel kick, but it could save a life.
Fighting with the tools at hand
Speaking of tools of the trade, MCMAP does implement fighting techniques using the rifle as a melee weapon. Not just bayonet techniques, but also butt strokes, slams, and more.
The Marine Corps teaches knife fighting and even the use of improvised weapons the Marines might have on hand; these might be an E-Tool or a kevlar helmet. Whatever it is, MCMAP teaches you to use it to your advantage. When you get into the black belt world, you’ll be learning how to use a garrote to take down a sentry if needed.
It’s quite violent
If knives and garrotes aren’t enough, then the rest of the program might surprise you. MCMAP is made with the idea that the wielder will be at war and killing is a part of war. As such, Marines are taught to stomp the head of a downed enemy, choke them to death, and stab them repeatedly.
Most of the program revolves around getting an opponent off-balance, to the ground, or in some form of holding and then killing them. A low kick to the knee hurts long enough to drive the butt of the rifle into their skull, which is undoubtedly a lethal blow. It’s a violent program that aims to disable and kill an enemy.
The problems with MCMAP
Why do so many Marines fail to take the program seriously? Well, there are a few reasons. First, some instructors don’t take it seriously and just don’t care. This is a minority of instructors since Martial Art instructors’ school is quite grueling. However, a bad instructor won’t care about the quality of the training.
I had a bad instructor for my first grey belt training who really didn’t care. I don’t remember much at all about the training and don’t feel like I learned a whole lot. The second time I did grey belt training, my training was completely different. They were intense training sessions in which the instructors were amped up and passionate.
Another reason Marines don’t take MCMAP seriously is the resources assigned to it. I took grey belt twice, and it wasn’t because I failed it. No, someone dropped the ball and did not enter my grey belt training in the system because no one really cared.
Even passionate instructors might not be provided the proper amount of time and resources to teach a good class. You need an instructor, a training area, a Corpsman, pads, mats, gloves, dummy knives, dummy rifles, and more. Oh, and you need the Marines to be there and not doing their eight briefs on a mundane subject.
Finally, martial arts require continuous training. Not once a year, but constant refreshment, and that’s just not provided to Marines. MCMAP isn’t perfect, but it’s not the joke people seem to make it. In the limited window where it’s used, it can excel. If the Marine Corps wants it to.